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April 16th, 2014 - we have 234 poets, 8,025 poems and 103,948 comments.
Richard Brautigan - Part 7 of Trout Fishing in America

      THE PUDDING MASTER OF



           STANLEY BASIN





Tree, snow and rock beginnings, the mountain in back of the

lake promised us eternity, but the lake itself was filled with

thousands of silly minnows, swimming close to the shore

and busy putting in hours of Mack Sennett time.

  The minnows were an Idaho tourist attraction. They

should have been made into a National Monument. Swimming

close to shore, like children they believed in their own im-

mortality .

  A third-year student in engineering at the University of

Montana attempted to catch some of the minnows but he went

about it all wrong. So did the children who came on the

Fourth of July weekend.

  The children waded out into the lake and tried to catch the

minnows with their hands. They also used milk cartons and

plastic bags. They presented the lake with hours of human

effort. Their total catch was one minnow. It jumped out of a

can full of water on their table and died under the table, gasp-

ing for watery breath while their mother fried eggs on the

Coleman stove.

  The mother apologized. She was supposed to be watching

the fish --THIS IS MY EARTHLY FAILURE-- holding the

dead fish by the tail, the fish taking all the bows like a young

Jewish comedian talking about Adlai Stevenson.

  The third-year student in engineering at the University of

Montana took a tin can and punched an elaborate design of

holes in the can, the design running around and around in

circles, like a dog with a fire hydrant in its mouth. Then he

attached some string to the can and put a huge salmon egg

and a piece of Swiss cheese in the can. After two hours of

intimate and universal failure he went back to Missoula,

Montana.

  The woman who travels with me discovered the best way

to catch the minnows. She used a large pan that had in its

bottom the dregs of a distant vanilla pudding. She put the

pan in the shallow water along the shore and instantly, hun-

dreds of minnows gathered around. Then, mesmerized by

the vanilla pudding, they swam like a children's crusade

into the pan. She caught twenty fish with one dip. She put

the pan full of fish on the shore and the baby played with

the fish for an hour.

  We watched the baby to make sure she was just leaning

on them a little. We didn't want her to kill any of them be-

cause she was too young.

  Instead of making her furry sound, she adapted rapidly

to the difference between animals and fish, and was soon

making a silver sound.

  She caught one of the fish with her hand and looked at it

for a while. We took the fish out of her hand and put it back

into the pan. After a while she was putting the fish back by

herself.

 Then she grew tired of this. She tipped the pan over and

a dozen fish flopped out onto the shore. The children's game

and the banker's game, she picked up those silver things,

one at a time, and put them back in the pan. There was still

a little water in it. The fish liked this. You could tell.

  When she got tired of the fish, we put them back in the

lake, and they were all quite alive, but nervous. I doubt if

they will ever want vanilla pudding again.








  

          ROOM 208, HOTEL

          TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA



Half a block from Broadway and Columbus is Hotel Trout

Fishing in America, a cheap hotel. It is very old and run by

some Chinese. They are young and ambitious Chinese and

the lobby is filled with the smell of Lysol.

  The Lysol sits like another guest on the stuffed furniture

reading a copy of the Chronicle, the Sports Section. It is the

only furniture I have ever seen in my life that looks like baby

food.

  And the Lysol sits asleep next to an old Italian pensioner

who listens to the heavy ticking of the clock and dreams of

eternity's golden pasta, sweet basil and Jesus Christ.

  The Chinese are always doing something to the hotel. One

week they paint a lower banister and the next week they put

some new wallpaper on part of the third floor.

  No matter how many times you pass that part of the third

floor, you cannot remember the color of the wallpaper or

what the design is. All you know is that part of the wallpaper

is new. It is different from the old wallpaper. But you can-

not remember what that looks like either.

  One day the Chinese take a bed out of a room and lean it

up against the wall. It stays there for a month. You get used

to seeing it and then you go by one day and it is gone. You

wonder where it went.

  I remember the first time I went inside Hotel Trout Fish-

ing in America. It was with a friend to meet some people.

  "I'11 tell you what's happening, " he said. "She's an ex-

hustler who works for the telephone company. He went to

medical school for a while during the Great Depression and

then he went into show business. After that, he was an errand

boy for an abortion mill in Los Angeles. He took a fall and

did some time in San Quentin.

  "I think you'll like them. They're good people.

  "He met her a couple of years ago in North Beach. She

was hustling for a spade pimp. It's kind of weird. Most

women have the temperament to be a whore, but she's one

of these rare women who just don't have it--the whore tem-

perament. She's Negro, too.

  "She was a teenage girl living on a farm in Oklahoma. The

pimp drove by one afternoon and saw her playing in the front

yard. He stopped his car and got out and talked to her father

for a while.

 "I guess he gave her father some money. He came up

with something good because her father told her to go and

get her things. So she went with the pimp. Simple as that.

 "He took her to San Francisco and turned her out and she

hated it. He kept her in line by terrorizing her all the time.

He was a real sweetheart.

  "She had some brains, so he got her a job with the tele-

phone company during the day, and he had her hustling at

night.

  "When Art took her away from him, he got pretty mad. A

good thing and all that. He used to break into Art's hotel

room in the middle of the night and put a switchblade to Art's

throat and rant and rave. Art kept putting bigger and bigger

locks on the door, but the pimp just kept breaking in--a huge

fellow.

  "So Art went out and got a .32 pistol, and the next time

the pimp broke in, Art pulled the gun out from underneath

the covers and jammed it into the pimp's mouth and said,

'You'll be out of luck the next time you come through that

door, Jack.' This broke the pimp up. He never went back.

The pimp certainly lost a good thing.

  "He ran up a couple thousand dollars worth of bills in her

name, charge accounts and the like. They're still paying

them off.

  "The pistol's right there beside the bed, just in case the

pimp has an attack of amnesia and wants to have his shoes

shined in a funeral parlor.

  "When we go up there, he'll drink the wine. She won't.

She'Il'have a little bottle of brandy. She won't offer us any

of it. She drinks about four of them a day. Never buys a fifth.

She always keeps going out and getting another half-pint.

"That's the way she handles it. She doesn't talk very much,

and she doesn't make any bad scenes. A good-looking woman, r

   My friend knocked on the door and we could hear some-

body get up off the bed and come to the door.

   "Who's there?" said a man on the other side.

  "Me," my friend said, in a voice deep and recognizable

as any name.

  "I'11 open the door. " A simple declarative sentence. He

undid about a hundred locks, bolts and chains and anchors

and steel spikes and canes filled with acid, and then the

door opened like the classroom of a great university and

everything was in its proper place: the gun beside the bed

and a small bottle of brandy beside an attractive Negro woman,

  There were many flowers and plants growing in the room,

some of them were on the dresser, surrounded by old photo-

graphs. All of the photographs were of white people, includ-

ing Art when he was young and handsome and looked just like

the 1930s.

  There were pictures of animals cut out of magazines and

tacked to the wall, with crayola frames drawn around them

and crayola picture wires drawn holding them to the wall.

They were pictures of kittens and puppies. They looked just

fine .

  There was a bowl of goldfish next to the bed, next to the

gun. How religious and intimate the goldfish and the gun

looked together.

  They had a cat named 208. They covered the bathroom

floor with newspaper and the cat crapped on the newspaper.

My friend said that 208 thought he was the only cat left in the

world, not having seen another cat since he was a tiny kitten.

They never let him out of the room. He was a red cat and

very aggressive. When you played with that cat, he really

bit you. Stroke 208's fur and he'd try to disembowel your

hand as if it were a belly stuffed full of extra soft intestines.

  We sat there and drank and talked about books. Art had

owned a lot of books in Los Angeles, but they were all gone

now. He told us that he used to spend his spare time in sec-

ondhand bookstores buying old and unusual books when he

was in show business, traveling from city to city across

America. Some of them were very rare autographed books,

he told us, but he had bought them for very little and was

forced to sell them for very little.

They'd be worth a lot of money now, " he said.

  The Negro woman sat there very quietly studying her

brandy. A couple of times she said yes, in a sort of nice

way. She used the word yes to its best advantage, when sur-

rounded by no meaning and left alone from other words.

  They did their own cooking in the room and had a single

hot plate sitting on the floor, next to half a dozen plants, in-

cluding a peach tree growing in a coffee can. Their closet

was stuffed with food. Along with shirts, suits and dresses,

were canned goods, eggs and cooking oil.

  My friend told me that she was a very fine cook. That

she could really cook up a good meal, fancy dishes, too, on

that single hot plate, next to the peach tree.

 They had a good world going for them. He had such a soft

voice and manner that he worked as a private nurse for rich

mental patients. He made good money when he worked, but

sometimes he was sick himself. He was kind of run down.

She was still working for the telephone company, but she

wasn't doing that night work any more.

  They were still paying off the bills that pimp had run up.

I mean, years had passed and they were still paying them

off: a Cadillac and a hi-fi set and expensive clothes and all

those things that Negro pimps do love to have.

 Z went back there half a dozen times after that first meet-

ing. An interesting thing happened. I pretended that the cat,

208, was named after their room number, though I knew that

their number was in the three hundreds. The room was on

the third floor. It was that simple.

  I always went to their room following the geography of

Hotel Trout Fishing in America, rather than its numerical

layout. I never knew what the exact number of their room

was. I knew secretly it was in the three hundreds and that

was all.

 Anyway, it was easier for me to establish order in my

mind by pretending that the cat was named after their room

number. It seemed like a good idea and the logical reason

for a cat to have the name 208. It, of course, was not true.

It was a fib. The cat's name was 208 and the room number

was in the three hundreds.

  Where did the name 208 come from? What did it mean? I

thought about it for a while, hiding it from the rest of my

mind. But I didn't ruin my birthday by secretly thinking about

it too hard.

  A year later I found out the true significance of 208's

name, purely by accident. My telephone rang one Saturday

morning when the sun was shining on the hills. It was a

close friend of mine and he said, "I'm in the slammer. Come

and get me out. They're burning black candles around the

drunk tank. "

  I went down to the Hall of Justice to bail my friend out,

and discovered that 208 is the room number of the bail office,

It was very simple. I paid ten dollars for my friend's life

and found the original meaning of 208, how it runs like melt-

ing snow all the way down the mountainside to a small cat

living and playing in Hotel Trout Fishing in America, believ-

ing itself to be the last cat in the world, not having seen

another cat in such a long time, totally unafraid, newspaper

spread out all over the bathroom floor, and something good

cooking on the hot plate.









          THE SURGEON





I watched my day begin on Little Redfish Lake as clearly as

the first light of dawn or the first ray of the sunrise, though

the dawn and the sunrise had long since passed and it was

now late in the morning.

  The surgeon took a knife from the sheath at his belt and

cut the throat of the chub with a very gentle motion, showing

poetically how sharp the knife was, and then he heaved the

fish back out into the lake.

  The chub made an awkward dead splash and obeyed allthe

traffic laws of this world SCHOOL ZONE SPEED 25 MILES

and sank to the cold bottom of the lake. It lay there white

belly up like a school bus covered with snow. A trout swam

over and took a look, just putting in time, and swam away.

  The surgeon and I were talking about the AMA. I don't

know how in the hell we got on the thing, but we were on it.

Then he wiped the knife off and put it back in the sheath. I

actually don't know how we got on the AMA.

  The surgeon said that he had spent twenty-five years be-

coming a doctor. His studies had been interrupted by the

Depression and two wars. He told me that he would give up

the practice of medicine if it became socialized in America.

  "I've never turned away a patient in my life, and I've

never known another doctor who has. Last year I wrote off

six thousand dollars worth of bad debts, " he said.

 I was going to say that a sick person should never under

any conditions be abad debt, but I decided to forget it. Noth-

ing was going to be proved or changed on the shores of Little

Redfish Lake, and as that chub had discovered, it was not a

good place to have cosmetic surgery done.

  "I worked three years ago for a union in Southern Utah

that had a health plan, " the surgeon said. "I would not care

to practice medicine under such conditions. The patients

think they own you and your time. They think you're their

own personal garbage can.

  "I'd be home eating dinner and the telephone would ring,

'Help ! Doctor ! I'm dying! It's my stomach ! I've got horrible

pains !' I would get up from my dinner and rush over there.

  "The guy would meet me at the door with a can of beer in

his hand. 'Hi, dec, come on in. I'11 get you a beer. I'm

watching TV. The pain is all gone. Great, huh? I feel like a

million. Sit down. I'11 get you a beer, dec. The Ed Sullivan

Show's on.'

  "No thank you, " the surgeon said. "I wouldn't care to

practice medicine under such conditions. No thank you. No

thanks .

  "I like to hunt and I like to fish, " he said. "That's why I

moved to Twin Falls. I'd heard so much about Idaho hunting

and fishing. I've been very disappointed. I've given up my

practice, sold my home in Twin, and now I'm looking for a

new place to settle down.

  "I've written to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexi-

co, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington for

their hunting and fishing regulations, and I'm studying them

all, " he said.

  "I've got enough money to travel around for six months,

looking for a place to settle down where the hunting and fish-

ing is good. I'11 get twelve hundred dollars back in income

tax returns by not working any more this year. That's two

hundred a month for not working. I don't understand this

country, " he said.

  The surgeon's wife and children were in a trailer nearby.

The trailer had come in the night before, pulled by a brand-

new Rambler station wagon. He had two children, a boy two-

and-a-half years old and the other, an infant born premature-

ly, but now almost up to normal weight.

 The surgeon told me that they'd come over from camping

on Big Lost River where he had caught a fourteen-inch brook

trout. He was young looking, though he did not have much

hair on his head.

 I talked to the surgeon for a little while longer and said

good-bye. We were leaving in the afternoon for Lake Josephus

located at the edge of the Idaho Wilderness, and he was leav-

ing for America, often only a place in the mind.









        A NOTE ON THE CAMPING



      CRAZE THAT IS CURRENTLY



            SWEEPING AMERICA



As much as anything else, the Coleman lantern is the sym-

bol of the camping craze that is currently sweeping America,

with its unholy white light burning in the forests of America.

  Last summer, a Mr. Norris was drinking at a bar in San

Francisco. It was Sunday night and he'd had six or seven.

Turning to the guy on the next stool, he said, "What are you

up to?"

  "Just having a few, " the guy said.

  "That's what I'm doing, " Mr. Norris said. "I like it. "

  "I know what you mean, " the guy said. "I had to lay off

for a couple years. I'm just starting up again. "

  "What was wrong?" Mr. Norris said.

  "I had a hole in my liver, " the guy said.

  "In your liver?"

 "Yeah, the doctor said it was big enough to wave a flag

in. It's better now. I can have a couple once in a while. I'm

not supposed to, but it won't kill me. "

  "Well, I'm thirty-two years old, " Mr. Norris said. "I've

had three wives and I can't remember the names of my child-

ren. "

  The guy on the next stool, like a bird on the next island,

took a sip from his Scotch and soda. The guy liked the sound

of the alcohol in his drink. He put the glass back on the bar.

  "That's no problem, " he said to Mr. Norris. "The best

thing I know for remembering the names of children from

previous marriages, is to go out camping, try a little trout

fishing. Trout fishing is one of the best things in the world

for remembering children's names."

  "Is that right?" Mr. Norris said.

  "Yeah, " the guy said.

  "That sounds like an idea, " Mr. Norris said. "I've got to

do something. Sometimes I think one of them is named Carl,

 but that's impossible. My third-ex hated the name Carl. "

   "You try some camping and that trout fishing, " the guy

 on the next stool said. "And you'll remember the names of

 Your unborn children. "

   "Carl! Carl! Your mother wants you!" Mr. Norris yelled

 as a kind of joke, then he realized that it wasn't very funny.

 He was getting there.

   He'd have a couple more and then his head would always

 fall forward and hit the bar like a gunshot. He'd always miss

 his glass, so he wouldn't cut his face. His head would always

 jump up and look startled around the bar, people staring at

 it. He'd get up then, and take it home.

   The next morning Mr. Norris went down to a sporting

 goods store and charged his equipment. He charged a 9 x 9

 foot dry finish tent with an aluminum center pole. Then he

 charged an Arctic sleeping bag filled with eiderdown and an

 air mattress and an air pillow to go with the sleeping bag.

 He also charged an air alarm clock to go along with the idea

 of night and waking in the morning.

   He charged a two-burner Coleman stove and a Coleman

 lantern and a folding aluminum table and a big set of inter-

 locking aluminum cookware and a portable ice box.

  The last things he charged were his fishing tackle and a

 bottle of insect repellent.

  He left the next day for the mountains.

   Hours later, when he arrived in the mountains, the first

 sixteen campgrounds he stopped at were filled with people.

 He was a little surprised. He had no idea the mountains

 would be so crowded.

   At the seventeenth campground, a man had just died of a

 heart attack and the ambulance attendants were taking down

 his tent. They lowered the center pole and then pulled up the

 corner stakes. They folded the tent neatly and put it in the

 back of the ambulance, right beside the man's body.

   They drove off down the road, leaving behind them in the

 air, a cloud of brilliant white dust. The dust looked like the

 light from a Coleman lantern.

   Mr. Norris pitched his tent right there and set up all his

 equipment and soon had it all going at once. After he finished

 eating a dehydrated beef Stroganoff dinner, he turned off all

 his equipment with the master air switch and went to sleep,

 for it was now dark.

   It was about midnight when they brought the body and

placed it beside the tent, less than a foot away from where

Mr. Norris was sleeping in his Arctic sleeping bag.

  He was awakened when they brought the body. They weren't

exactly the quietest body bringers in the world. Mr. Norris

could see the bulge of the body against the side of the tent.

The only thing that separated him from the dead body was a

thin layer of 6 oz. water resistant and mildew resistant DRY

FINISH green AMERIFLEX poplin.

  Mr. Norris un-zipped his sleeping bag and went outside

with a gigantic hound-like flashlight. He saw the body bring-

ers walking down the path toward the creek.

 "Hey, you guys !" Mr. Norris shouted. "Come back here.

You forgot something. "

  "What do you mean?" one of them said. They both looked

very sheepish, caught in the teeth of the flashlight.

  "You know what I mean," Mr. Norris said. "Right now!"

  The body bringers shrugged their shoulders, looked at

each other and then reluctantly went back, dragging their

feet like children all the way. They picked up the body. It

was heavy and one of them had trouble getting hold of the feet.

  That one said, kind of hopelessly to Mr. Norris, "You

won't change your mind?"

  "Goodnight and good-bye, " Mr. Norris said.

  They went off down the path toward the creek, carrying

the body between them. Mr. Norris turned his flashlight off

and he could hear them, stumbling over the rocks along the

bank of the creek. He could hear them swearing at each other.

He heard one of them say, "Hold your end up.'' Then he

couldn't hear anything.

  About ten minutes later he saw all sorts of lights go on at

another campsite down along the creek. He heard a distant

voice shouting, "The answer is no ! You already woke up the

kids. They have to have their rest. We're going on a four-

mile hike tomorrow up to Fish Konk Lake. Try someplace

else. "

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Poet: Richard Brautigan
Poem: Part 7 of Trout Fishing in America
Year: Published/Written in 1950
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